Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Art is too important to be left to government

The National Center for Policy Analysis recently reviewed an article by Lawrence Reed, "What's Wrong with Government Funding of the Arts," which appeared in the September 2011 issue of the Freeman Online.

Here is their summary which makes some very valid points that should appeal to those who don't want public funding of the arts, along with those who love the arts and want to see them succeed:

People who oppose Soviet-style collective farms, government subsidies to agriculture or public ownership of grocery stores because they want the provision of food to be a private matter in the marketplace are generally not dismissed as uncivilized or uncaring. But people who oppose government funding of the arts are frequently accused of being heartless or uncultured, says Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

The fact that the arts are wildly buffeted by political winds is actually a powerful case against government funding. Art is too important to depend on politicians, too critical to be undermined by politicization. Furthermore, expecting government to pay the bill for it is a cop-out, a serious erosion of personal responsibility and respect for private property.

What multiplier?
* Virtually every interest group with a claim on the treasury argues that spending for its projects produces some magical "multiplier" effect.

* Routing other people's money through the government alchemy machine is supposed to somehow magnify national wealth and income, while leaving it in the pockets of those who earned it is somehow a drag.

* Those "studies" that purport to show X return on Y amount of government investment in the arts are generally a laughingstock among economists -- the numbers are often cooked and are almost never put alongside competing uses of public money for comparison.

Meaningful money.
* Those of us who wish to nurture the arts privately stress other, far more important values.

* Money that comes voluntarily from the heart is much more meaningful than money that comes at gunpoint

What's important.
* Art is just about everything to some people, especially those whose living derives from it.

* But as adults we have to resist the temptation to think that what we are individually doing is somehow the greatest thing since sliced bread and that therefore it must receive more than what people willingly give it.

Reed also asks some great 'what if' questions - questions we should always when others tell us we need to spend tax dollars on arts or zoos or a myriad of other things:

What if, for instance, “public investment” simply displaces a certain amount of private investment? (Arts subsidy advocates never raise this issue, but I know that I personally am far less likely to make a charitable contribution to something I know is on the dole than to something I know rests on the good hearts of willing givers). What if “public investment” brings with it some baggage like political manipulation that over time erodes the integrity of the recipient institutions? How does that fit into the equation? What if I, as a taxpayer who earned the dollars in the first place, could keep what the government would otherwise spend on the arts and invest it in my kid’s college education and end up getting twice the return on my money that the government would ever get on the arts?

In the end, Reed's conclusion is what a lot of *feel* and believe:

Lots of things are important in life. Spare us the sanctimonious and self-serving nonsense about taking other people’s money for the art you happen to think they should pay for.

I'll support the art I like - and you can do the same!

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